RICHMOND, Va. –
After more than 35 years of service in the Virginia National Guard, historic organizational firsts seem to follow Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda Williams to each new assignment.
The Virginia Army National Guard G4 Logistics sergeant major and newly-appointed Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett command sergeant major was the first Black female command sergeant major in the Virginia National Guard. She was part of the organization’s first all-female battalion-level command team with the Recruiting and Retention Battalion. Now, she’s the first female command sergeant major for MTC.
Williams says she didn’t necessarily plan on being that kind of trailblazer.
“I didn’t set out to do that. I think, just looking at my career progression and where it was going, it eventually led to that, but I didn’t set out to to do that,” said Williams. “Having great supporters and leadership, especially in the senior leadership chain, they had faith in me to be able to take these assignments and do a great job.”
Her long career started back in 1988 when she learned about the Guard while attending school and working a part-time job at a credit union.
“A friend of mine who worked there, she kept talking about the National Guard and their benefits. It just sounded really cool,” Williams said. “She told me about the travel and the training they did once a month and two weeks during the summer months. I said, okay, I will try it out. I went down to the Norfolk armory, talked to a recruiter there, took the ASVAB, next thing you know, I enlisted into the Virginia National Guard.”
She’s worn many different hats in her time in the VNG, but one role stands out to her.
“For me, I have to say my favorite job in the military was being a first sergeant. It was all about the Soldier care,” said Williams, who was the first sergeant for the Blackstone-based 3647th Maintenance Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. “The most rewarding part of that role for me was being able to be part of a team and mentor and train Soldiers. I love advocating for the Soldiers and providing guidance and mentorship to those individuals who want to move up through the ranks, especially the ones who have potential to be future leaders in the organization.”
That desire to help encourage and support future leaders in the organization shapes Williams’s mission as a mentor.
“I try to assist Soldiers wherever I can,” said Williams. “For me, it’s not so much legacy, it’s being able to guide Soldiers or NCOs to advance in their careers if that’s what they strive for, just giving them the guidance, support, feedback and opportunities to helps them achieve that.”
That includes encouraging more Black and female Soldiers to pursue leadership positions.
“Sometimes I want people to understand, it’s not favoritism, it’s just giving that encouragement, like ‘hey, you can do these things too.’ For African American females, it gives them this ‘I can do it too’ mindset. I am humbled when Soldiers and individuals tell me how happy they are and are proud of what I have accomplished, but I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the Soldiers.”
Williams finds her own inspiration in both historical figures and her professional mentors. She credits her former enlisted leaders for shaping her leadership style, including Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Smith, former Virginia Army National Guard command sergeant major.
“Just watching how he operates and always having the best interests of the organization in mind when dealing with Soldiers or anything he’s tasked with, he always did it with confidence,” she said. “What I really respected about him is he would reach out to some of the senior NCO leadership and ask for advice or opinions on certain situations or things we could do better as leaders in the organization.”
She also mentions Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as someone she tries to emulate.
“Just because of what he stood for and everything he had to endure while promoting and fighting for equality, and he still stayed the course. His humble and kind spirit resonated throughout his overall message - we can achieve these things, it’s just being human to one another, and kind to one another,” explained Williams. “I would say that with everything I’ve learned about him and all of the things I know as a leader, he would be the person I’d like to project.”
Celebrating historical figures like King are important during Black History Month, but Williams doesn’t think that kind of education should be limited to just February.
“To me it should be 365 days a year,” she said. “I think it’s important because it shows the contributions that Black people have made over the years. When you showcase Black history, you show all of the positive, all the contributions, things that we as Black people have done, and done with pride. Sometimes we are not all as knowledgeable or aware of what Black people have done throughout history or roles they’ve played. Every year I’m learning something different.
“For me, it’s good, because sometimes I’m learning things I didn’t know or weren’t taught in school. For my sons, I try to instill in them that this is the reason why you’re able to do these things now. When you talk to young people sometimes, they don’t get it - ‘what do you mean you couldn’t do these things?’”
Williams has deployed a handful of times over her length career, including during Operation Noble Eagle shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and later to Iraq and Kuwait with the Virginia Beach-based 529th CSSB, 329th RSG. Most recently, she just returned as part of the command team for the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as they conducted air defense missions in Iraq.
Now, Williams is looking to continue her success in the G4 as well as in her new role as the MTC command sergeant major.
“This is a monumental opportunity for me that I don’t take lightly, and I am truly excited about my new role and looking forward to contributing to the great legacy of work that continues to redefine the Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett.”